Officially, Keshari Thapa Rana’s title is head teacher of Nepal’s only Special School for the Blind, Partially Sighted and MDVI Children. But she lives at the school, caring for its 105 students – 4 to 26 years old – with minimal overnight staff.
“I love to say I’m not a head teacher, I’m their parents, a good friend and a counselor,” she said. “I am the only teacher from 10 to 4 (o’clock). I have to work 24 hours.”
As one of 15 participants in this year’s Educational Leadership Program, Rana is now a world away from her demanding job. She’ll remain on Perkins School for the Blind’s campus in Watertown, Massachusetts, for nine months, learning more about education for children with blindness, visual impairment and multiple disabilities.
But she’s still in daily contact with her staff in Nepal, working remotely. “The time difference makes big trouble,” she said, laughing. “And the Internet is not good in our small town. It’s difficult to manage all these things. But I love a challenge.”
Rana, who has a Bachelor of Education in science and certificate in biology from Tribhuvan University, previously worked in a government school. She took no formal classes in special education, which are not available in Nepal. But head teachers of the Special School kept leaving, and she was offered the job. It meant leaving her family in Kathmandu, with only monthly weekend visits.
“Everyone told me, ‘No, no, no,’” she remembered. “So many challenges. Why? But I decided to try it for six months. And then I met the children.”
Her students come from very poor families. The teachers at the Special School were all appointed and some weren’t working as hard as they could. “I told them, this school is not for you, not for me,” she said. “This school is for the children who have no other options.” The teachers got the message and stepped up their efforts.
Twenty-one years later, she’s still there, striving to rehabilitate students and direct them to future study or work. “These children are neglected, not only by society, but by their own families,” she said. “This school is for the children, to give them opportunities and development.”
Because Rana lacks a degree in special education, she was grateful when Perkins provided training to her school after it expanded in 2010 to accept students with low vision and multiple disabilities. Her educational consultant urged her to apply to the ELP, and she’s overjoyed to be at Perkins, gathering more tools and knowledge to help her students and improve her school.
“Am I dreaming?” she said. “I’m going to learn so much.”